Editor's Note: This article is part of a blog series for Women's History Month featuring stories of men and women working to create a more equal and safe world. May we all continue to partner and pray together for gender justice—download our free March 2015 Prayer Calendar.
We’ve lost Leonard Nimoy. Justly famous as Star Trek’s iconic Mr. Spock, he was also a poet, musician, and photographer. And he was my role model.
I was 10 when I discovered Star Trek—and I immediately gravitated toward the taciturn Vulcan who embraced logic and science even as he wrestled with deep human emotion. The resemblance between Spock and the pre-teen me would have been startling had I recognized it as such; instead, I only saw a character who embodied the conflicts I felt—intellectually and emotionally.
Nimoy was a supporter of equal rights. For example, he convinced Paramount to end the pay inequity Nichelle Nichols experienced during the original Star Trek series. Later, he refused to sign on to the animated Star Trek series until Nichelle Nichols and George Takei were hired to voice their own characters. Away from Star Trek, he challenged “definitive” elements of beauty with The Full Body Project photographs.
But why did Nimoy—why does any man—work to end sexism and discrimination?
Simply: It’s the right thing to do. That ought to be all anyone needs. At the very least, he did it for co-workers whom he respected.
Men who want to “Live Long and Prosper” work to make that possible for everyone, so that their claims to value justice for all have integrity.
Many men and women find inspiration to do this work in the teachings of their faith traditions. I arrived at Fuller Seminary in 1986, and my studies, including Greek and Hebrew, brought me to a feminist theology class where we talked about feminine representations of G-d. This sparked the next phase of my journey to center my faith around the social justice claims made by Jesus on his followers, and I came across an unlikely connection between Star Trek and that faithful social justice project. Leonard Nimoy explained in an interview that the iconic Vulcan salute was based on something he saw as a young boy in synagogue: when chanting a particular prayer, leaders hold their hands in the...
shape of the letter ש in the Hebrew alphabet, which is the first letter of Shaddai—a name for G-d. So the sense is that they are using a symbol for G-d’s name as they bless the congregation with that name, with that blessing. And you’re not supposed to look because, I was told many years later, that during that benediction, the Shekhinah, also starts with a ש, comes into the sanctuary to bless the congregation. And this is the feminine aspect of G-d, and you don’t want to see her because the light that emanates from the deity could hurt you, could blind you, or even worse.
As is often the case, the G-d/ess we worship challenges us to end discrimination and oppression. The Divine, understood as personal, deistic, or pantheistic, calls us to treat our neighbors well—whoever they may be.
In the Jewish tradition, this is called tikkun olam or “healing the world.”
In 1975, a group of men were enrolled in a women’s studies course at the University of Tennessee. Accepting the social critique provided by feminism, but not wishing to co-opt the women-centered movement for equal rights, they organized a “pro-feminist” conference for men and women. Warmly received, a second conference was planned, but just weeks before it was to take place, that M&M (men and masculinity) gathering was “disinvited” from campus because it was to include a presentation by a gay man. The planners quickly relocated the M&M and made gay-affirmation a regular part of future conferences. Addressing racism was the obvious next step.
To ensure that the pro-feminist, gay-affirmative, anti-racist M&M conferences would continue, a national organization was formed, which became the National Organization for Men Against Sexism. My faithful social justice project led me to attend my first M&M in 1995, and I joined the NOMAS leadership council in 1997.
My experience with NOMAS has aligned comfortably with Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek: a society where poverty and oppression had been eliminated, and where Mr. Spock spoke of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” NOMAS has provided me with a larger community—faithful and secular—in which to work toward that vision of tikkun olam.
When remembering Leonard Nimoy, I'm reminded that I, too, should work to heal the world. It is both the right and logical thing to do.
Allen Corben joined staff part-time at Fuller Theological Seminary (MA-Theology, 1988) in the Registrar's Office as an envelope-stuffer, alphabetizer, and occasional stapler. In 2005, he became the Assistant Registrar for Graduation Services. Allen is co-chair of NOMAS and a member of the Board of Directors of Stepping Stone Players, a community theatre company based in Glendale, CA.